Deshaun Watson returns to Clemson as a Heisman favorite, so it comes as no surprise that he is the favorite among ACC coaches to repeat as player of the year.
In an anonymous poll of all 14 coaches during their visit to ESPN this week, 10 coaches voted for Watson. Two voted for Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, and two other coaches did not want to make a pick.
"Watson is the difference-maker," one coach said.
On Monday, Watson was tabbed as the preseason ACC Player of the Year in a vote among the media, garnering 164 votes. Cook was second with 18 votes.
The vote for preseason ACC Defensive Player of the Year was not as clear-cut among the coaches, suggesting that race is as wide open as it appears headed into the season. Only seven coaches felt comfortable selecting a player for that very reason.
Five different players earned at least one vote: Louisville linebacker Devonte Fields, Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware, NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb, Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, and Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker.
One coach said of Fields: "We just couldn’t block him."
Another coach said of Wilkins: "He’s just so athletic for a big man. I’m a huge fan of his."
Another said of Chubb: "I think he’s in line to have a huge year."
Fields returns as the top returning player in tackles for loss (22.5), and was the ESPN.com preseason choice as ACC Player of the Year. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino says Fields, who had offseason shoulder surgery, is in the best shape he’s been in since he arrived on campus.
When asked what type of year he could have, Petrino said, "He could have a good year. He’s a good player. We need to get him some good matchups."